How to Prevent Difficult Customers in Retail: Online Stores

May 31st, 2016 | Carla Jerez | Customer Service | Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes
prevent difficult customers in retail-online stores
“Thank your customer for complaining and mean it. Most will never bother to complain. They’ll just walk away.”
– Marilyn Suttle, success coach and customer service expert

Handling difficult customers can be emotionally and financially draining, but as Marilyn Suttle points out, a difficult customer is still a customer. This is someone who hasn’t walked away from your company or service, and so their loyalty is still salvageable.

But the real question for online retailers is: How do I prevent this dissatisfaction to begin with?

Luckily, there are a number of techniques that can be used to keep you from working with difficult customers. In this post, we’ll explore preventative measures for online retailers, so that your customer support team can help guide your customers through a happy, difficulty-free shopping experience. (For brick and mortar retailers, please read: How to Prevent Difficult Customers in Retail: Brick and Mortar.)

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It’s indeed important to prevent your customers from being difficult so that you can spend your time and money in selling more of your products. But prevention doesn’t work 100% of the time. Download this eBook to learn how to deal with and follow up on difficult customers.

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Set Return Policies

According to a comScore study with UPS, 67% of the 5,000 consumers surveyed checked a company’s return policy before making a purchase online, and 58% want a “no questions asked” experience.

As online shopping becomes more commonplace, customers want to make sure your return policy suits their needs before they place an order. This is likely because for many shoppers, buying a product online carries a bigger risk than buying it from a traditional store. Customers want to be sure that in the case that the item doesn’t meet their expectations, they have the option to return or exchange it.

Unfair or vague return policies can really upset a customer and, as a result, make them difficult. Create a comprehensive return policy that can be communicated on its own web page.

If your business cannot afford to take returns indiscriminately, consider the following:

  • Give out store credit that doesn’t expire. This ensures that the money stays within the company, and as a result allows you to be more flexible with the types of returns you accept.
  • Allow customers to return damaged products. You should always allow customers to return or exchange products that are disfunctional. Although you may fear that some people will take advantage of this policy, the risk of offending a potentially loyal customer isn’t worth the cynicism.
  • Making exceptions for regular customers. You should make exceptions for your most loyal customers, as they are the ones that truly drive your business. While it’s important to remind them what the policy is so they are aware, they will really appreciate that you recognize their business as valuable and are making an exception for them.
  • Replacing lost packages. Although it’s generally not your company’s fault if a package is lost, you should either ensure all packages (and either absorb the cost or change your shipping costs to reflect this), or replace them yourself. The reasoning is simple: a customer will be disappointed if a package is lost, and a disappointed customer is a difficult customer.

Make sure your email support team and chat operators are aware of the return policies and can communicate them clearly. If your return policy has a lot of terms and conditions, create a test that your support staff must pass before assisting customers.

Offer Comprehensive Self-Service Options

According to research conducted by Steven Van Belleghem, a best-selling author, 70% of customers expect a self-service option from companies.

That’s an overwhelming majority, and points to a growing trend in retail worldwide: People want self-service options, and may be irritated if they don’t get to have them.

Oftentimes customers will have the same questions about a product or service, so a searchable and comprehensive FAQ keeps the customer from becoming difficult.

Additionally, some customers do not want to talk to representatives, wait, or go to your store in person (if you have a brick and mortar establishment). If they have to do things they do not like, they can become irritable and difficult.

The following self-service channels can help you prevent a number of difficult customers scenarios from occurring:

  • FAQ. A good FAQ will answer not only questions that operators are frequently bombarded with, but also answers questions pertaining to shipping, production methods, return and privacy policies, and encryption methods.
  • Chatbot. In many cases, a chatbot can be a more comprehensive version of an FAQ; customers can type in their question and get an instant response without searching through pages of information.
  • Explanation videos. Consider starting a Youtube channel or creating a network of videos on your own site. This way customers can learn about your company, your policies, and how to best use your product.
  • Blog, reports, and white papers. Additional written materials can help you reach customers who may prefer reading to watching videos. A blog is especially useful, as relevant blog posts can be linked to in the FAQ and can be used by operators to help explain certain features or instructions.

Curate Retail Items

There are so many choices a consumer has to face today, and it can wear customers out to just think about them. This can make them angry or confused, which of course leads to difficulty.

You can help guide their buying decisions by implementing the following:

  • Staff picks. Staff picks are items that may be a combination of new arrivals, old picks that need to be pushed, and products that members of your staff particularly enjoy or find interesting. Promote these staff picks in email newsletters, on social media, and in blog posts.
  • Personalized picks. Send your VIPs emails every few weeks displaying products they may like based off of previous purchases.
  • Train your staff. Your customer service staff should be your customer’s guide, helping them find the perfect product or choice before your customer has a chance to become overwhelmed or agitated. Make points of contact obvious on your website, and train staff to make appropriate suggestions to confused customers.

Take the Customer-Centric Approach


With a customer-centric approach, handling difficult customers becomes much easier and more manageable. This is because you not only give workers the right to put the customer first, but you identify whom your most valuable customers are, and learn what they need from you.

According to Dr. Peter Fader, author of Customer Centricity, “customer centricity is not a philosophy, but a strategy.”

The way to practice a customer-centric strategy online is to:

  • Leverage social media. If a customer mentions you on social media you should respond to them, learn about their interests, and ask them for their opinion. Taking their feedback into account will help you identify weaknesses that could be strengthened, which helps you prevent future customers from dissatisfaction.
  • Ask for feedback. Ask your most frequent and loyal customers for feedback online. Consider creating a list of your most loyal customers, and sending out personalized emails, inviting them for a 10-minute chat.
  • Randomly review chat operator logs and transcripts to monitor quality of communications. Have a rubric to grade them by, so there’s quantifiable data to review in meetings.
  • Respond to complaint emails. Make sure that each and every complaint email is read and responded to personally by an operator—not by a canned response. When a customer is already upset, you can prevent them from becoming difficult by quickly apologizing and offering a solution. Remember, if you handle a complaint with grace, you’ll prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.

While it may seem that some customers are difficult without provocation, they never see it this way. Most difficult customers feel that they were driven to this point through neglect or disappointment. As an online retailer, you should be sure to implement a difficult customer prevention strategy, so that you can give them less to complain about and more to celebrate.

how to deal with difficult customers over live chat

[Free Download] How to Deal with Difficult Customers over Live Chat

It’s indeed important to prevent your customers from being difficult so that you can spend your time and money in selling more of your products. But prevention doesn’t work 100% of the time. Download this eBook to learn how to deal with and follow up on difficult customers.

Download Now


Carla Jerez is a senior content writer at Comm100. She has a degree in Creative Writing from Florida State University and has years' experience writing for the SaaS industry. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, traveling, or playing around on Photoshop. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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